ARLINGTON — While its usual inhabitants are off in the more comfortable climes of the west prepping for the start of North American football, the palace known officially as Cowboys Stadium has undergone a slight makeover — its artificial turf replaced with a natural vegetation — for the return of football, international style.The semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup comes to Dallas-Fort Worth on Wednesday as four national teams vie for the distinction of being crowned men’s soccer champion of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.The U.S. team, seeking its 10th consecutive victory and fifth Gold Cup crown, plays host to Honduras at 6 p.m. at Cowboys Stadium, followed by Panama and six-time Gold Cup champ Mexico at 9.The final is Sunday in Chicago.“[Dallas-Fort Worth] is tremendous and has always done great holding world class events,” said Jeffrey Webb, the president of CONCACAF. “From hosting the World Cup in 1994 to the Super Bowl in snowy conditions.”Snow will not be a factor Wednesday.A sizzling American side, laden with motivated players hoping to be on the U.S. World Cup roster, might be.Gold Cup champions in 1991, 2002, 2005 and 2007, the U.S. is working on extending a record winning streak, set this month in a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica that clinched the Group C crown.Brek Shea, a former FC Dallas member, scored that game’s only goal.“We’ve had a really fun time in this tournament,” said Shea, who spent Tuesday with his teammates getting their initial feel for the natural turf. “On and off the field it’s a great group of guys. I think everyone is just excited to play.” Honduras was the last team to defeat the Americans, in World Cup qualifying.The game also serves as the ongoing evaluation of players by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who will fill out a roster for the World Cup in Brazil next year.Shea, a forward and native of College Station, is one of those hoping to secure one of those coveted spots.“It’s an opportunity for us to see players coming through the system, and you want to evaluate them and see them in every training session,” said Klinsmann, in his third year as U.S. coach. “You want to see them every minute they are on the field in order to get a better picture of them toward the World Cup.”It was hoped among America’s soccer community that this year’s Gold Cup would be a preview of World Cup competition in 2018 or 2022 in the United States. Cowboys Stadium would almost certainly be at the top of the nominees to host games, perhaps even the final.That all changed when FIFA changed its policy of rotating the event among the seven continents. The U.S. hosted the World Cup in 1994. Instead, 2018 will be played in Russia. World Cup 2022 will be played in Qatar, a place that makes Texas’ sultry summers seem like February.CONCACAF and the World Cup community is committed to bringing soccer’s most prestigious event back to North America in 2026, 32 years since the last time in 1994. Whether that’s the U.S., Mexico or Canada or a combination of the three, such as 2002 when Japan and South Korea hosted, is to be seen. Cowboys Stadium will be in that mix, Webb said.“Cowboys Stadium is ... perhaps the best stadium in the world,” Webb said. “I couldn’t imagine a stadium like this not being among the finalists for hosting the World Cup.”
CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals
Wednesday, Cowboys Stadium
United States vs. Honduras, 6 p.m.
Mexico vs. Panama, 9 p.m.
Tickets: $37-$212, Cowboys Stadium ticket office at (817) 892-5000 or Ticketmaster at (800) 745-3000.
TV: Fox Soccer
At stake: Winners advance to July 28 Gold Cup final at Soldier Field in Chicago. The champion represents the region in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Five things to watch
Gold Cup heavyweights
Mexico (six) and the United States (four) have the most Gold Cup titles since the tournament began in 1991. Should Panama or Honduras upset either of the favorites, they would have the chance to be the first Central American team to win the championship in Gold Cup history. Mexico has won the past two tournaments, which are every other year. Mexico’s previous two wins have been against the USA, 5-0 and 4-2.
Stars, stripes and goals
The United States has dominated scoring in the 2013 Gold Cup, netting 16 as a team. Panama sits second, at 9. Chris Wondolowski, known in the tournament for the extra W put in his name on the back of his jersey, is tied for the lead in tournament goals with five. Panama’s Manuel Gabriel Torres also has found the back of the net five times.
Panama forward Blas Perez returns to his home away from home. When he’s not representing his home country, Perez plays for FC Dallas. He leads the team with six goals and 18 shots on goal. He’s scored twice in the Gold Cup.
United States forward Landon Donovan, the national team’s leader in scoring and assists, has a tournament-leading six assists. He had three against El Salvador in the quarterfinals. A trio of players are a distant second with two each: Kyle Beckerman of the United States, Miguel Layun of Mexico and Alexander Lopez of Honduras.
Three U.S. players are returning home: Omar Gonzalez (Dallas), Stuart Holden (Houston) and Brek Shea (College Station). Shea plays in the Premier League and started his career with FC Dallas.